The Nikon Coolpix L19 is being presented to the public as an easy-to-use little budget camera for casual users who don't want (or want to pay for) all the fancy fixings. I've thought for awhile that something like this was needed on the market—camera seekers who aren't interested in custom white balances and manual options often have to pay for them anyhow, and users who aren't tech-savvy can be easily confused by all of the extemporaneous stuff. Combine that with the fact that the Coolpix line has gotten pretty excellent these days, and I was prepared to like the L19 when it showed up at my door. Unfortunately, for a camera that relies so heavily on the idea of Auto functions, the Auto functions don't work very well. A camera like this should be a case of doing one thing and doing a great job with it. The main thing this camera does, which is taking care of the settings for you, leaves you feeling frustrated with your bland photos.
Small, Comfortable Design
The camera itself is a nice little unit. It's sleek, comfy to hold, and has a pretty intuitive layout. For some reason the Playback buttons bother me: on most cameras, I'm used to pushing Playback once to review my photos, then pushing the same button again to go back to Shooting mode. On the L19 there is a separate button that you have to push to return to camera operation, and I was forever punching Playback again and again and getting nowhere. But aside from that, the buttons make sense, with all the usual menus, tilters for zoom, and a convenient separate button for photo deletion. That's pretty much where the benefits ended, though.
The LCD on this camera is relatively small, which is fine, but it's also where you first begin to notice the shortcomings of the camera's Auto functions. Specifically, the Auto focus. Most cameras have to do a little hunting on the screen when you move them, as they re-find your subject and try to lock focus, but the L19 does some bumping and grinding along the way, and even when you find an obvious subject, it doesn't always seem to know what you're trying to focus on. The hunting and blur each time you move the camera gets annoying, and I can imagine it would be worse if you were trying to take pictures of fast-moving subjects. I could forgive a slightly sluggish Auto focus, however, if it actually worked when you pushed the button. The L19 had issues in this department. For some reason, the focus locked fine during indoor shots, but when I took the camera outdoors (in both shadow and shade) it threw up its hands in defeat.
When you press the shutter button halfway and focus is achieved, the red square in the center of the LCD is supposed to turn green. Sometimes it just plain refused; other times, it would turn green but then when you shot the photo it was still out of focus. I have no idea why being outdoors would create this problem; you would think it would occur indoors, where the light is less contrasty and specific objects are more difficult to pick out. But whatever the reason, it was frustrating. Other times, oddly, a photo would look badly out of focus on the LCD, but then be fine later when you uploaded it. Usually you can at least get a semblance of an idea of what you shot, even on a poor LCD, but on this camera a photo would look un-usable onscreen and then be okay on the computer, resulting in many unnecessary retakes.
Simple and Easy Operation. Perhaps Too Simple and Easy.
The L19 offers a variety of scene modes, which seemed to work all right, but its main selling points (once again, for the non-tech camera users) are the two Auto modes (Easy and Regular auto). Regular Auto did a better job than Easy Auto when it came to choosing the right exposures, but neither one was too impressive. In both cases everything seemed either slightly overexposed (in sunshine) or slightly underexposed (in shade or indoors), and anything but the most vibrant colors come out muddy and unappealing. The camera is also flash-happy; if you don't turn it off, it'll fire at the slightest shadow, even when the photo is perfectly fine without it. It's a pretty dramatic flash, too, the kind that darkens the background and spotlights objects with a sort of irritating vibrancy. It would work in a pinch, but it's not the impressive natural light other pocket cameras have managed to achieve with their flashes. Indoor photos without flash, on the other hand, tend to be grainy, even when the subject isn't all that dark.
Conclusion: Takes Care of Everything (Even When You Don't Want It To)
Basically, the L19 is a camera that relies heavily on its Auto functions and on the fact that it takes care of everything for you. This is great in theory, but when you find yourself wishing for more controls so that you could correct what the camera is doing wrong (and those controls, of course, just aren't there), you end up frustrated with the final results. Users who are looking for bare-bones, budget, and easy to use will enjoy the L19, but those who still care primarily about their photo quality should keep looking for something more substantial.